The "America" Crystal Set
BY NORM HERTZ
When reporting on the annual AWA Conference and Auction at Rochester, New York, in our December 2002 issue, we showed Norm Hertz's prize-winning contest display, which he called the "America" Crystal Set. The photo leaped out as the perfect choice for the Fourth of July cover. The choice seemed worth a six-month wait. (Editor)
The "America" crystal set is a crystal radio built into a ceramic form in the shape of Uncle Sam's top hat. In its red, white and blue colors, this set may be considered a work of folk art.
Folk art often documents an individual's response to critical moments in American history. Symbols of liberty, for example, became common images as soon as the nation had declared independence. They are also common in times of war. Liberty figures, American flags, and Uncle Sam are among the images adapted to the forms of weathervanes, quilts, textiles, and other decorative arts.
Shortly after September 11, 2001, I was inspired to create a work of folk art that would be dedicated to the spirit of America in this trying time. If folk art can take many different forms, I reasoned, why not in the form of an antique crystal radio. The final work would connect my love for collecting antique crystal radios with my love for this great country.
Norm Hertz's complete "America" Crystal Set display as it appeared at the 2002 Antique Wireless Association Conference.
Since I was born and raised in Lower Manhattan, and later worked in the downtown area, I spent the greater part of my life close to where these buildings lay, both before and after their construction. Even my job took me to frequent meetings inside the twin towers to meet with other city and state representatives. In the period prior to the twin towers construction, I had been fortunate to be able to purchase radios and parts from the Radio Row shops in those early days.
Building the Set
In order to give this work special significance, I selected only materials that were related in some way to the twin towers. The ceramic form came from a small shop that lay in an adjacent side street in the shadow of the towers. All of the hardware, taps, switches, as well as the crystal detector and inner coil assembly, came from Cortlandt Street, which existed in the area before the great buildings were erected.
By selecting these materials "native" to the site from two different time periods, I felt that I had also established a connection between the past and the present. In completing this work, I had unified these elements into a form that celebrates both America and radio. America reigns as the land of liberty, and radio is symbolized as the voice of liberty in the 20th century.
To preserve the uniqueness of this crystal radio, I made only two sets. One went to another member of the radio-collecting community, who shares a common interest in antique radio and a patriotic spirit. This last set will remain with me as a constant reminder of my love for our hobby and for this great country, which I pray will always remain proud and free.
(Norm Hertz, 4904 Amboy Rd., Staten Island, NY 10312)